Week One of 40 Days through Mark’s Good News
Over the 40 days of Leap of Faith, we will walk together through the entire story of the ministry of Jesus, at least as it is told by Mark. Mark is one of the early followers of Jesus. He may or may not have known Jesus himself, but he was probably a traveling companion of the apostle Simon Peter. Simon Peter never wrote a history of Jesus himself, but John Mark collected and wrote down Simon Peter’s story. I’m sure that as you read you’ll see that Peter’s perspective comes out strongly, and that it’s a really valuable perspective to have. Mark’s gospel (which means ‘good news’) was the first one written, about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Incidentally, it’s also the shortest. That means that, when we read it over 40 days, each day’s passage should be a manageable size. The size does vary a bit, as we’ve sectioned it in such a way as to make good sense of the stories, rather than just dividing it into equal-sized bits.
Each day’s guide is broken into three sections:
- THE STORY FOR THE DAY. For your convenience, we’ve included the text of the story in the New Living Translation (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996). For this guide, we’ve found this translation to be in fresh, modern language that has really helped us to do what we most want to do: enter into the story ourselves. As you read the passage, try to read it from the perspective of the disciples and the other people who interact with Jesus. Really get inside the story. What is it like to go through this experience with Jesus?
- POINTS OF INTEREST. This section briefly explores aspects of the day’s story that might be especially interesting or potentially confusing. It offers some historical notes and references that might help to interpret the story, frames some of the issues or questions addressed, and gives suggestions of ways to look at the story and what it might mean for us.
- TAKING IT HOME. In this section, we offer some suggestions for how the day’s reading might apply to you, to your 6, and to our church.
Mark 1:1–13 — John’s preparing the way
1 Here begins the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
2 In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way. 3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him!’”
4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He lived in the wilderness and was preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all over Judea traveled out into the wilderness to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from camel hair, and he wore a leather belt; his food was locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced: “Someone is coming soon who is far greater than I am—so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” 9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10 And when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you.” 12 Immediately the Holy Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness. 13 He was there for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
- ‘Here begins the good news . . .”—in these first several verses, Mark is connecting the new story he is about to tell with the stories of God’s relationship with his people in the Old Testament. These 13 verses are packed with references to the old stories. More than anything, what Mark is trying to communicate is that the stories that have been told for so long, that seemed lost in a golden past, are coming alive right in front of their eyes.
- ‘traveled out into the wilderness to hear John”—I’ve often wondered why so many people would listen to John the Baptist. Imagine it: respectable people from all over Judea are taking the trip out to the desert to hear a crazy, bug-eating guy whose message is, ‘Turn from your sins’—not highly original nor usually very popular. But the people come out in droves! Mark seems to say that the people listened to John because they recognized that his arrival was prophesied. The quote ascribed to Isaiah is actually a combination of two prophecies, the first half from Malachi 3 and the second from Isaiah 40. People saw in John the voice shouting in the wilderness. But how did they know that he was the voice in the wilderness? It might have something to do with Mark’s little fashion report in verse 7. The history of the kings of Israel (II Kings 1:7-8) describes the prophet Elijah as, “a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.” John is imitating Elijah in his dress. Elijah is another desert prophet of a thousand years earlier, one of Israel’s most famous prophets. And Malachi prophesied, in the very last two verses of the Hebrew scriptures, that Elijah would come again, to prepare people for “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” When the people hear of John, dressed like Elijah, calling out in the desert, they recognize that after hundreds of years of waiting, this prophecy is coming true. Elijah is here, and the Lord is coming. When he comes, they want it to be more great than terrible.
- ‘he was baptized by John’—Why was Jesus baptized by John? John’s baptism is a sign that you have turned from your sins. Did Jesus have sins from which he needed to turn? It seems clear that that’s not the case: whereas everyone else confesses their sins as they are baptized, God himself says of Jesus, “I am fully pleased with you”—in other words, “you don’t have to confess.” Far from a confession, Jesus’ baptism serves as a coronation. Tomorrow, we will see that Jesus’ first message is “The Kingdom of God is near.” Every kingdom needs a king. In Israel’s tradition, new kings were anointed by prophets. In I Samuel 16: 13, the prophet Samuel anoints King David this way: “Samuel took the olive oil he had brought and poured it on David’s head. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him from that day on.” Just like David is anointed by a prophet with oil and by God with the Spirit, Jesus is anointed by a prophet with water and by God with the Spirit. When God says, “You are my Son,” he is actually making a reference to Psalm 2 a royal coronation psalm: during the coronation ceremony, a priest would sing over Judah’s kings the words, “You are my Son; today I have become your father.” Basically, God the Father adopted each of the kings of Judah upon their coronation. At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father himself makes the same declaration over Jesus. The part about ‘becoming your father,’ he leaves out, because Jesus has always been his son. The baptism is a ceremony marking Jesus as a very special king.
- ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’—John the Baptist is a pretty important person: the first prophet to come from God in hundreds of years; a sequel to the famous prophet Elijah; the most exciting thing happening in Israel. But this is what he says about himself: “I am nothing compared to the one who is coming.” Their baptisms bear out the comparison. John baptizes people in water. He promises that Jesus will baptize people in the Spirit of God. However much greater the Holy Spirit is than common water, that is how much greater Jesus is than John. As exciting as John’s arrival is, it is nothing compared to Jesus. John is saying to us that Jesus has the ability to immerse us in the very Spirit of God. Something that had been very rare before Jesus’ coming—a direct connection with God—will be so plentiful when Jesus arrives that you can take a bath in it.
TAKING IT HOME:
- For you: When John tells the people that the Lord is on the way, they get ready, like straightening the house and putting on nice clothes to prepare for the arrival of a guest. Confessing their sins and turning from them are the ways they prepare for a smooth arrival. We are all hoping for Jesus to visit us in a special way over these 40 days of Leap of Faith. But our sin is often a barrier to us really being able to receive what Jesus has for us. The way John describes it is that the Lord is coming with very good gifts for us, but our sins, the ways we wrong God and others, create something of an obstacle course, making it difficult for him to get to us. In order to clear a good path for Jesus’ arrival, spend a few moments confessing the ways you’ve wronged others or wronged God recently.
- For your 6: John creates a sense of anticipation in the people who listen to him. He raises their expectation of Jesus’ arrival. Is there anything you can do for any of your 6 to point to Jesus and raise expectation? One way John heightened expectation is by tapping into the strong yearning of the people for the day of the Lord. What do your friends really long for? How would Jesus satisfy that yearning?
- For our church: John promised that Jesus would immerse us in the Holy Spirit when he came. Pray for us, that we would have just such a baptism in the Holy Spirit during these 40 days of Leap of Faith.